Resilience

“A butterfly whose wings have been touched, can indeed still fly” J. Raymond.

Today’s post is about the subject of resilience, which has been playing on my mind for a while now. To put it into context, the last 6 months have been without doubt the most difficult I’ve ever experienced (so far).

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An apology….

OK so I’m ashamed to say that it’s been quite a long time since I last posted. It’s not that nothing has been happening—quite the opposite—it’s just that I haven’t felt up to posting much these last few months.

Since January I’ve been having a problem with my hand, specifically my thumb and wrist. It has been put down to a repetitive strain injury or overuse injury to the Extensor Pollicis Longus (EPL) tendon, one of the tendons responsible for extending or lifting your thumb.

It gradually got more and more sore, and has required me to have a medical certificate and only able to perform modified duties at work. Read: no lab work, minimal computer work, nothing repetitive with my right thumb. Yep, the thumb on my dominant hand! Continue reading

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Attack of the Smurfs! (a.k.a naturally coloured soap Part 1)

Time for an update on our soapy adventures…

The original soap making attempt using the Little Green Workshops kit worked a treat – the bars kept their lovely orange blossom scent, and gave a good lather with some poppy seeds bits for a nice bit of scrubby exfoliation as well (although my other half felt they were a bit too scrubby at times). I’ve always been wary of soap as my skin tends to feel quite dry and tight after using soap bars, prompting me to use shower/body washes instead, but I thought this soap was a bit less drying and kinder to my skin. Overall I was pretty pleased with it.

OK I have to admit at this point that in my research about what sort of soaps to try next, I have become slightly obsessed with looking at soap art/porn online and dreaming about all the creative soapy loveliness I could create. Many of the beautiful colourful soaps online are coloured with synthetic colourants, which give a vibrant colour palette with which to create an amazing array of patterns and effects. The colourants are widely used and have been tested for skin safety so it’s not a problem as far as I know to use them, however I wanted to stick to more natural ingredients in my soap as far as possible, so I started doing some research into natural colourants.

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The springing of spring – woohoo!

So I’ve been a bit quiet lately, we’ve been away on holiday to visit family in the UK, and then I just started a new job (back to working full time – eek!) so the last few weeks have flown by, I’m just catching my breath!

In the blink of an eye – or sIMG_2493_2o it seems – spring is finally here and the weather is starting to pick up, it’s looking like it might get up to over 30 degrees this weekend! The trees are blossoming – including our lemon and apricot trees in the garden, and the lovely native wattle trees with their pretty yellow pom-pom flowers are everywhere at the moment, a really cheerful sight to brighten our days! I’ve loved getting out in the garden and grabbing some pictures of some of the lovely native and non-native flowers that are blooming right now – many of them seem to flower for such a short period and die back before it gets really hot, so I’ve been trying to get pics of them while they are around.

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To try to catch up after my busy few weeks we had a busy day in the garden today, getting some way towards adding in a new veggie bed, and planting a whole bunch of seeds including chillies, peppers (capsicum), borlotti beans, sweetcorn, courgette (zucchini) and butternut squash – phew! I hope they all come through, and also that we can get the veggie beds finished in time to make space for them if they do! Looks like the veggie patch is coming to life too, the swiss chard (aka silverbeet) is growing new leaves and the garlic I managed to cram in a few weeks ago is sprouting.

IMG_2502_2Meanwhile, in our absence the ‘woodland’ area at the back of our garden that is filled with lots of native shrubs and eucalypts seems to have sprouted an army of Oxalis. I have to admit they look really pretty under the trees, and have bright yellow flowers that open during the day and close at night – much brighter than the normally bare ground (covered with varying levels of bark chips) that we have under the eucalypts for the rest of the year. I have been advised to spray the whole lot with Roundup, but that is not going to happen in my garden, so I’ve been trying to clear them manually – time will tell how successful that has been but I’m not too bothered, once the weather heats up they die back until next year, and I do quite like them to be honest!

The girls (and boy) have been enjoying some supervised time on that area of the garden, which they LOVE! I’ve read that Oxalis is not great for chickens to eat due to it’s high concentration of oxalic acid, hence the supervision, but they’re enjoying eating the other weeds and grass that are out there – so much so that they are only allowed out for 20 minutes or so immediately before sunset, so I can easily get them back in to go to bed! They love it so much that they crowd around the door to their run every evening, waiting to see if we’ll let them out onto that part of the garden, and seem quite disappointed if they can’t go out there. I think they’re getting a bit spoilt!

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Little Helena enjoying her adventures in the ‘forbidden zone’ at the back of our garden.

 

 

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Jesus can walk on water….

…but Chuck Norris can swim through land.

Or so the saying goes. What does this have to do with anything? Well, we have some new (well relatively) additions to our chicken family, including our new rooster Chook Norris! Here he is meeting the existing matriarch Rosie (little black pekin) for the first time – I think the resemblance is pretty clear don’t you?

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I know I know, a risky move bearing in mind we don’t live on acres of farmland and have some neighbours nearby. We didn’t intend to get a rooster really, it just sort of, well, happened.

A while ago we noticed that when we had two or 3 broody chickens (which is worryingly quite often!) the other remaining chickens seem a bit lost, as if they need a critical mass of chickens in order to be confident roaming around the garden and digging in the bushes. This makes sense if you consider their flock mentality, safety in numbers and the idea that someone is always on the lookout – if suddenly it’s just the two of you then how much can you trust that the other chicken has your back and isn’t just stuffing her face with bits of foliage and small insects?

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Bubble bubble toil and trouble!

When I first watched the movie Fight Club I was intrigued that the characters were able to make soap (and other more…um…explosive substances) so easily with just a few simple ingredients. To me, soap was something to add to the shopping list, not something that I had ever considered making myself. And even after Fight Club, I still didn’t, seeing the searing burn on Edward Norton’s hand was enough to convince me that soap making was something best left to the professionals!

In spite of this, my interest in making soap and other skincare products was awakened recently when considering our plastic usage – I began to research soap making as a way to reduce our plastic use from purchasing shower gel and so on. I was amazed by the variety of beautiful soaps that soap hobbyists have made, and also the simplicity of ingredients needed. And, I have to admit, although chemistry was never my strong point, the sciency-ness of soap making appeals to me too!

As a first foray into soap making, I decided to purchase a kit to get me started. I have been following the blog of Gavin Webber (www.greeningofgavin.com) for a while now – in fact it was his blog that inspired me to finally get off my bum and start writing – and they now run soap making workshops and sell supplies online. I liked the idea of supporting a local small business run by people with the same goals as us so I ordered an Orange Blossom Scrub Soap kit from their online shop (www.littlegreenworkshops.com.au). Sounds lovely!

IMG_2378The kit arrived really quickly within a couple of days, and contained all of the oils needed, some exfoliating poppy seeds, orange blossom fragrance, orange colour and the soap mould, plus step-by-step instructions. Over the weekend David and I decided to bite the bullet and have a go! The only additional things you need are sodium hydroxide (lye, a.k.a. caustic soda) and water – we used distilled water from the local hardware shop. We also bought a craft thermometer, and some heavy duty black gloves – Sodium Hydroxide is a strong alkali and can cause nasty Fight Club-esque burns. Combined with my lovely cow-print apron and some safety glasses I was ready to go! Continue reading

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Viva La Ferment Fever – Part 2

It’s been a while coming—due to hectic ‘end of contract’ madness and trying to finish up at work, combined with family members jumping off moving bikes and fracturing elbows (!)— but I’m slowly getting back on track with our sustainability adventures so here is the second part of our fermentation workshop. The workshop has also featured on the website of Very Edible Gardens here in Melbourne.

In the second part of the VEG fermentation workshop we moved on to looking at yoghurt and kefir, and learnt how to make yoghurt using a thermos flask, some milk and a small amount of live yoghurt as a starter culture to inoculate the milk with the right bacteria.

Carey also showed us some cheese that he had made from the homemade yoghurt, simply from straining the yoghurt through some cheesecloth to drain off the whey and leave the curds behind to form a soft cheese. This is known as Labne, and is common in Lebanese and other middle eastern foods.

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We learnt about how to make kefir, which is similar to yoghurt but contains a much broader mix of bacterial strains – in the same way sourdough bread contains different types and amounts of yeasts and bacteria compared to bread made with commercial yeast that is a specialised strain. Kefir is less stringent that yoghurt on temperature and conditions, it can be made at room temperature whereas yoghurt needs to be a bit warmer at about 40 degrees C.

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We tried some different types of kefir that Carey had prepared beforehand, made from
dairy milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk (from left to right in the photo – hard to tell as once mixed they all looked similar!). They were all quite different to taste, especially as I don’t normally drink dairy milk so to me it tasted quite sour (but not unpleasant). The coconut kefir and rice milk kefirs were pretty good, they had a hint of sweetness along with the sour, fermented flavour, which I thought was a nice mix. The soy kefir was good, but much stronger tasting than I was expecting from drinking soy milk every day! It was more similar to the dairy one than I thought it would be, which was interesting.

Before we could drink the kefir it was necessary to remove the bacteria/yeast culture, which forms squishy cauliflower-like blobs that float around in the milk – sounds pretty gross right? Carey strained the kefir through a mesh to catch the kefir grains, and we all had a look. The kefir grains are an example of a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. From a biological point of view I found the idea that there was a symbiotic balance of bacteria and yeast strains living together in the kefir really fascinating, but couldn’t help wondering how exactly someone discovered how to make kefir in the first place and that it was safe to drink? I often wonder that about a lot of things…

2015-02-28 13.41.23We had a delicious lunch featuring some homemade ferments in the form of carrot and ginger, saurkraut and kimchi, along with sourdough pancakes and some goodies that we’d each taken along to share. I took a Spanish omelette made from our own potatoes and eggs from our girls, it felt great to be able to share some of the things we’ve grown ourselves at home, and to share in the goodies that others had brought, including things they’d grown themselves such as delicious rocket salad. Yum! We washed it down with a lovely sweet lemony drink made from the whey drained from the labne, what a great ‘whey’ to use up the leftovers!

Lunch was officially the end of the class, but Cassie suggested we might like to hang around for some homemade yoghurt ice cream that she was whipping up in the ice cream maker. I suppose we could stay for a little while longer… anything for ice cream!

2015-02-28 14.35.04Whilst the ice cream maker was doing its thing, Carey showed us his Kombucha drink – a fermented tea drink that also contains a SCOBY. The SCOBY here forms a disc on the top of the drink – check it out of the photo below. We tried a little, it was pretty good – slightly fizzy and I found it quite refreshing. I think I’ll be adding that to my list of things to try!

After squeezing in a small bowl of delicious mango and coconut yoghurt icecream we all headed off, armed with our jars of vegetables ready to ferment, our printed booklet of recipes and notes for things to try at home, and full bellies from trying all those different foods!

Overall the class was great, we covered a lot of ground and at times moved quite quickly, but I think the balance was pretty good between covering some things in more detail (like how to actually set up the kimchi/saurkraut ferments and how to make yohurt) whilst still introducing the possibilities of other fermented options too, to give a glimpse of other things we might like to try. The atmosphere was great and Carey and Cassie were really helpful in answering all of our questions and sharing their knowledge. Although these things are easy to find on the internet or in books, sometimes it’s just nicer to actually learn from a real life person and interact face to face!

Check out my next post to find out what happened next in the fermentation adventure….when we try out our new found fermenting skills at home unsupervised!

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